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Holandes v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

November 3, 2014

Madeline Holandes, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.

ORDER

D. THOMAS FERRARO, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Madeline Holandes filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner). (Doc. 1.) Before the Court are Holandes's Opening Brief, Defendant's Opposition to Holandes's Opening Brief, and Holandes's Reply. (Docs. 23, 25, 28.) The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction. (Doc. 13.) Based on the pleadings and the administrative record submitted to the Court, this matter is remanded for benefits.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Holandes filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) on November 20, 2008. (Administrative Record (AR) 290.) She alleged disability from January 4, 2003. ( Id. ) At a hearing, Holandes revised her onset date to January 25, 2007. (AR 70, 102.) Holandes's application was denied upon initial review (AR 197) and on reconsideration (AR 204). A hearing was held on August 3, 2010 (AR 96-172), after which ALJ George W. Reyes found that Holandes was not disabled (AR 180-88). The Appeals Council remanded the case to the ALJ for further proceedings. (AR 194-95.) After a second hearing on February 13, 2012 (AR 36-95), the ALJ found Holandes not disabled at Step Four (AR 18-30). The Appeals Council denied Holandes's request to review that decision. (AR 1.)

FACTUAL HISTORY

Holandes was born on April 16, 1962, making her 46 years of age at the onset date of her alleged disability. (AR 159.) She had experience working at a bank, as a cashier, and as a correctional officer. (AR 308.)

Holandes stopped working in 2003, and was diagnosed by Dr. Jeffrey Loomer with fibromyalgia. In 2004, she underwent gastric bypass surgery and over time her fibroyalgia symptoms improved. However, the symptoms returned in 2006 and she began seeing Dr. Loomer again in 2007.

The ALJ concluded that Holandes had fibromyalgia but he determined she could perform light work with frequent balancing and stooping; occasional climbing of ramps/stairs, kneeling, crouching or crawling; and never climbing ladders/ropes/scaffolds. (AR 25.) Based on vocational expert testimony, the ALJ concluded Holandes could perform her past relevant work as a bank teller. (AR 29.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Commissioner employs a five-step sequential process to evaluate DIB claims. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see also Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 460-62 (1983). To establish disability the claimant bears the burden of showing that (1) she is not working; (2) she has a severe physical or mental impairment; (3) the impairment meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment; and (4) her RFC precludes her from performing her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). At Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant has the RFC to perform other work that exists in substantial numbers in the national economy. Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007). If the Commissioner conclusively finds the claimant "disabled" or "not disabled" at any point in the five-step process, she does not proceed to the next step. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).

"The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities." Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995) (citing Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989)). The findings of the Commissioner are meant to be conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance." Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (quoting Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1018 (9th Cir. 1992)). The court may overturn the decision to deny benefits only "when the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole." Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001). This is so because the ALJ "and not the reviewing court must resolve conflicts in the evidence, and if the evidence can support either outcome, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ." Matney, 981 F.2d at 1019 (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 400 (1971)); Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1198 (9th Cir. 2004). The Commissioner's decision, however, "cannot be affirmed simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence." Sousa v. Callahan, 143 F.3d 1240, 1243 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)). Reviewing courts must consider the evidence that supports as well as detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion. Day v. Weinberger, 522 F.2d 1154, 1156 (9th Cir. 1975).

DISCUSSION

Holandes argues the ALJ committed four errors: (1) the ALJ improperly evaluated the treating physician opinions and the medical evidence; (2) the ALJ erroneously evaluated Holandes's credibility; (3) the ALJ failed to properly consider lay witness testimony; and (4) the ALJ improperly disregarded the vocational expert's testimony. The medical records span close to ten years and the ALJ emphasized that the period at issue is ...


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